Calling all Valentines: Senza offers gluten-free treats

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Two steps inside Mary Manulik’s home you spot the cellos of various sizes spread across the living room floor. Music stands are positioned all about the room, and sheet music is strewn atop the piano. Two more steps and you’re inside the kitchen where heart-shaped sugar cookies and cheery pies adorn the counters.

Manulik, owner of Senza Foods, is a woman with a vast array of talents. After retiring from Boone County Bank last February, Manulik took on additional cello students and now spends even more time teaching private lessons in her home. She also began baking gluten-free products on a grander scale for her home-based bakery.

“I always thought once I retired I would open a bakery. But then I thought, ‘I don’t need to wait, I can open one right now,’” Manulik said.

Her company’s name, Senza, is derived from the Italian word for “without,” but as Manulik will tell you, that does not mean her products are without taste, they’re just made without gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Since Manulik began baking for Senza, she sells her goods at the Columbia Farmers Market each Saturday, in addition to taking orders from customers throughout the week. Now that her dream of opening a bakery is a reality, Manulik wakes up at 5 a.m. most days to start measuring and mixing.

Last weekend’s menu included two cherry pies (one made without dairy), four Dutch apple pies, carrot cake muffins, coconut macaroons, sugar cookies, linzer cookies (chocolate with a raspberry filling), chocolate cookies with white chocolate icing, and Rugalach cookies (crescent-shaped with a raspberry filling).

The choice to bake without gluten was an easy one for Manulik, though it was not a matter of diet. Her husband, Joe Quetsch, was diagnosed twenty years ago with Celiac disease, a disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine when gluten enters the digestive system. From then on, Manulik and her children spent hours in the kitchen baking treats for Quetsch, testing and sampling recipes for traditional treats made without gluten.

It did not take long for the family to realize there wasn’t any reason to make separate dinners and desserts for Quetsch, since gluten-free foods were just as satisfying and easy to make as their traditional counterparts, Manulik said.

Additionally, in most grocery stores gluten-free, tasty desserts are hard to come by Manulik said.

“When you’re at the store and start reading labels and you find all these words that you can’t pronounce, who knows if that’s gluten-free,” Manulik said.

With these ideas in mind, Manulik developed Senza so that other people with gluten intolerance in Columbia and in surrounding communities could enjoy dessert, too.

To ensure that her products do not come into contact with gluten, Manulik takes extreme measures to maintain the safety of her ingredients.

She utilizes separate sets of measuring spoons and cups specifically for gluten-free baking. Her cabinets are divided in half — one side for gluten, the other for gluten-free. When her daughter, who is studying culinary arts in New York, comes home and cooks with gluten, Manulik makes her mix dry ingredients on a work surface in the garage since flour can stay in the air for hours.

“Cooking gluten-free takes a lot of awareness and diligence, and maybe a little bit of paranoia,” Manulik said.

These preventative measures have become routine for Manulik, and she moves around her kitchen with ease. Without thinking, she dips her hand into a drawer for a third set of measuring spoons, removes a canister of gluten-free brown rice flour kept on a set of shelves with other gluten-free ingredients, and washes a cookie sheet used exclusively for gluten-free baking.

While Manulik is primarily a gluten-free baker, she can accommodate other allergens in the making of her products as well, such as dairy-free or egg-free.

Many customers have come to associate Senza with responsible, if a bit paranoid, baking for people with food allergies.

A man living in St. Louis called Manulik last week to inquire whether she could prepare gluten and soy-free chocolate-covered strawberries for his girlfriend on Valentines Day.

Although Senza does not advertise chocolate-covered strawberries on its website, Manulik said yes and made a mental note on her lengthy to-do list to go to the grocery store to price berries and buy gluten-free chocolate.

“I’m busy, but I get up early and get to do things that I love all day long,” Manulik said.

For more information about Senza, or to place an order visit http://www.senzafoods.com/.

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2 thoughts on “Calling all Valentines: Senza offers gluten-free treats”

  1. Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many specialty grocery stores sell gluten-free foods. If you can’t find them in your area, check with a celiac support group or go online. .

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